Oscar-shortlisted Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad denied US visa

'The Cave' director hoped to attend Oscars shortlist screening and Cinema Eye Honours

Director Firas Fayyad arrives at the Annual Academy Awards Nominee Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on February 5, 2018.  / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck
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Last year, Feras Fayyad became the first Syrian director to be nominated for an Academy Award when Last Men in Aleppo was up for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar.

His latest film, The Cave, has been shortlisted for the Academy Awards, making Fayyad a possible Oscars contender once again, but it now seems unlikely that Fayyad will be able to go and promote his film due to visa issues.

All I want is to have the opportunity to tell this story in person to everyone. It's not fair

In a Facebook post on Sunday, December 29, the Syrian filmmaker revealed that his visa to the US was denied. Fayyad said he had a number of events to attend to promote his documentary. “I hold a Syrian passport and I am currently living in exile in Copenhagen, Denmark... I was meant to be in the United States right now, but instead I am stuck because the visa I need to enter United States has not been granted to me,” Fayyad wrote.

"I should be attending the IDA (International Documentary Association) and Cinema Eye Honours, where I am also a nominee, alongside [a number of] events to represent The Cave […] but I can't because of the visa.

Directors attending the events leading up to the Academy Awards are considered a key part of the 'Oscars race'.

The Cave premiered on September 5 at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People's Choice Award for Documentaries. The film follows a dedicated team of female doctors as they tirelessly treat casualties in an underground hospital, all while battling systemic sexism in war-torn Syria.

“It's not my choice to be born in Syria. I am a filmmaker," Fayyad wrote in the Facebook post. "All I want is to have the opportunity to tell this story in person [to] everyone. It’s not fair […] that I will lose the opportunity to share my story, which comes from my soul and my pain and my determination to fight for my right to express and tell stories about the devastating experiences that I face with my people every day.”

This is not the first time Fayyad and his team have had visa-related trouble. In 2018, the producer on Fayyad's film Last Men in Aleppo Kareem Abeed was initially barred from entering the US due to Donald Trump's travel ban. It was thought he would be unable to attend the Oscars, but his visa was granted after an appeal just days before the ceremony.

In an interview with The National in November, Fayyad said his film was an attempt to shame the world into action by showing the consequences of its inaction. "My mission was to bring this situation into a documentary so emotional that people connect to, feel and understand the impact of these war crimes on the civilians who want to stay and don't have any intention of leaving. I feel this is the story of millions of Syrians; a story that should be seen by everyone."

Fayyad was tortured by the al-Assad regime when he was detained for 15 months for filming a documentary about the protests in 2011. “The devastating experience left me with severe psychological, mental and physical damage that I am still suffering from,” the filmmaker wrote, “but that didn’t stop me from doing what I do. It made me more determined to continue making films, because, for me, it is a battle to confront [those] who tortured me.”

Fayyad said he found that the documentary platform was the only way he could express the injustice happening in Syria. "The Cave is [the] only platform to confront [those] who tortured me, who took over and occupied my childhood, my family home and my freedom."

Earlier this month, Fayyad won the Best Writing award at the IDA documentary awards with The Cave's co-writer Alisar Hassan.